Statue Envy: How Richmond Fulfilled Its Promise to Honor J.E.B. Stuart
This is the second in a series of posts offering brief backstories on the Confederate statues on Monument Avenue
Major General James Ewell Brown (JEB) Stuart, commander of the Cavalry Corps of Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, died in Richmond on May 12, 1864 from wounds received in the battle of Yellow Tavern the day before. Amid intense public mourning, the handsome 31-year-old West Point graduate whose bold leadership and flair for the dramatic made him the beau ideal of a Confederate soldier, was buried in Richmond’s Hollywood Cemetery.
On May 14, 1864, Richmond City Council unanimously passed resolutions sending condolences to Stuart’s widow and appointing a committee “whose duty it shall be to report a design for a suitable monument and inscription” to Stuart. That promise ultimately led to the dedication of an equestrian statue of Stuart on Monument Avenue nearly a half century later.
The obvious question is what took so long?
White Richmonders actually wasted little time before expressing their appreciation of JEB Stuart. On the first Memorial Day at Hollywood Cemetery on May 31, 1866, hundreds of citizens visited the grave of “the Virginia cavalier, Major-General Stuart,” reported the Richmond Dispatch. At the foot of the grave was a niche “composed of evergreens and flowers, upon the top of which stands a life-like bust of the fallen soldier, the work of Mr. Edward Valentine….Upon the pedestal which supports the bust is this inscription: STUART. / DEAD YET ALIVE: / MORTAL, YET IMMORTAL.”
A month before that Memorial Day, the Dispatch noted that a “’Stuart Monumental Association’ has been formed in this city for the purpose of erecting a suitable monument at Hollywood Cemetery to the memory of General STUART,” and which urged “all Confederates and citizens generally” to contribute toward it. The Monumental Association’s efforts came to naught, reportedly because the Valentine bust proved memorial enough for the time being, and that “money then was needed more for the living than the dead.”
Resurrection of the Stuart monument initiative came 25 years later, apparently the result of statue envy. On October 29, 1891, a statue of Brigadier General Williams C. Wickham, an Army of Northern Virginia cavalryman, was unveiled in Richmond’s Monroe Park. The statue was the project primarily of the employees of the Chesapeake and Ohio railway, of which Wickham (who died in 1888) had been president, and also the survivors of his old cavalry brigade. Preparations for the unveiling ceremony reminded veterans that there was still no proper monument to Wickham’s commander, JEB Stuart.
Former cavalrymen convened a mass meeting on October 2, 1891, resulting in the creation later that month of the Veteran Cavalry Association of the Army of Northern Virginia. The Association’s purposes were to “cultivate a fraternal feeling among its members…” to publish a history of the cavalry operations, and to erect a specifically “equestrian statue of Genl. J.E.B. Stuart.”
The Association incorporated in 1892… then almost immediately went moribund. The nation’s then-worst economic depression (1893-1897) crippled fundraising efforts. The Association did not meet again until 1895.
The 1896 United Confederate Veterans (UCV) reunion in Richmond gave the cavalrymen an opportunity to extend their appeal for assistance beyond their own ranks. Lee had a statue in Richmond; so did the Confederate artilleryman, the soldiers and sailors, “Stonewall” Jackson (in Capitol Square), and now Wickham – and soon Jefferson Davis. “Shall the War Horse and his intrepid rider only be neglected?” the Veteran Cavalry Association asked rhetorically. “Shall the deeds of men who crossed swords with the enemy at Kelly’s Ford and on a hundred other fields be passed down to oblivion, or will you erect a lasting monument to Stuart and to the troopers who helped him on to fame, as an inspiration to those who must protect our country when we shall be no more? We need not here make answer.”
The cavalrymen also appealed to the City Council and the state General Assembly for funds, eventually receiving $10,000 from each body.
The Stuart statue was hardly predestined to anchor the eastern end of Monument Avenue. The Association’s bylaws stated only that the statue was to be erected “in or near the City of Richmond.” Both the city and the state offered sites for the equestrian statue. The city in 1895 purchased a triangular lot at the intersection of Broad St., Adams St., and Brook Road – the terminus of the Brook Turnpike where Stuart was mortally wounded (a site where a statue to African-American businesswoman Maggie L. Walker was unveiled in 2017). The Association rejected the offer. The state in 1903 offered a prime spot on Capitol Square in the shadow of the State Capitol. The Association eventually declined that, too.
In June 1904 the executive committee visited potential sites all over the city. They voted for the intersection of Monument Avenue and Cedar St., only to learn that the Jefferson Davis Monument Association had claimed that site already. Only after ruling out another site just west of the Lee statue on Monument Avenue did the Stuart statue find its home at the intersection of Lombardy and Franklin St., now Stuart Circle.
Similarly, after several false starts, the Association in October 1903 selected the design by Frederick Moynihan, a British born, New York City-based sculptor. A Committee on Design worked closely with Moynihan and the Gorham Foundry of Providence, Rhode Island, to create the statue. Limping as they were to the fundraising finish line, the Association’s members declined Moynihan’s suggestion to enlarge the scale of the equestrian figure and decided to consign the elaborate bas relief panels to the cutting-room floor.
Thus edited, the Stuart monument was unveiled on May 31, 1907, as part of the UCV reunion. Judge Theodore Garnett, who had been on Stuart’s wartime staff, delivered the oration. Predictably praising Stuart for his character, patriotism, and military skill, Garnett emphasized how Moynihan’s equestrian statue realized the “hopes so long cherished by his faithful followers” and fulfilled Richmond’s decades-old promise.